Federal Agencies Designing New Buildings

July 28, 2004

At least nine federal agencies, as well as several states and many local governments, are using the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system to foster sustainability in new building construction.

LEED, developed by the U.S. Green Buildings Council, is a consensus-based system for rating a new building at one of four different levels: certified, silver, gold, or platinum. The rating is based on the total number of "green" points or credits earned. These credits are given for specific sustainable strategies incorporated into the design. The credits fall into six main categories: (1) sustainable sites, (2) water efficiency, (3) energy and atmosphere, (4) materials and resources, (5) indoor environmental quality, and (6) innovation and design process.

LEED has been remarkably successful in the public sector. Of 948 LEED projects registered as of August 2003, federal projects make up 10 percent; state projects, 13 percent; and local government projects, 25 percent. According to a white paper of the journal Building Design & Construction (November 2003), federal agencies using LEED include the following:

  • The General Services Administration (GSA): All GSA buildings must be LEED certified; a silver rating is encouraged.
  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): Goals were established for facility projects to achieve a LEED silver rating; they can strive for gold if it is cost-effective.
  • Department of the Interior, National Park Service (NPS): All construction projects valued at more than $500,000 must submit a LEED checklist to the NPS Board, but LEED certification is not required.
  • Department of Health and Human Services: The Centers for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, and National Institutes of Health require analysis of renewable energy systems and the sustainable design principles included in LEED and the Whole Building Design Guide.
  • Department of State: The State Department Architectural Branch encourages all new office buildings to achieve LEED certification.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): EPA requires a silver rating for significant building projects and strives for gold or platinum.
  • Department of the Navy: The Navy has adopted LEED as a required tool and metric, but LEED certification is not required.
  • U.S. Air Force: The Air Force issued a 2001 policy mandate to use sustainable development concepts consistent with budget and mission requirements throughout a building's life cycle. LEED is the preferred self-assessment metric; at least 20 percent of each major command's projects will be LEED pilot projects in 2004.
  • U.S. Army: The Army has developed its own tool based on LEED, the Sustainable Project Rating Tool (SPiRiT). SPiRiT also includes operations and maintenance. All construction projects must strive for a bronze SPiRiT rating; the 2003 goal is to have 10 gold- or platinum-rated SPiRiT projects.

If your agency is considering using LEED in sustainable design projects, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Consider supplementing LEED with additional guidance. For example, several states require not only LEED but also a level of energy performance.
  • LEED is a good tool to use in the design process, but sustainability needs to permeate all phases of construction and operation of a new building. Building commissioning and monitoring, verification, and reporting of periodic energy use are all good supplements to LEED.
  • Several federal agencies have created policy and guidance documents on sustainability in the federal sector. FEMP is developing a Sustainable Federal Buildings database to collect and organize the data.
  • Due to its rapid growth in popularity, LEED may be seen as a de facto standard for green buildings now widely used in commercial practice. Even though some questions have been raised about the limited use of a consensus process in developing LEED, the rating system continues to evolve with extensive input from designers, suppliers of green products, and their customers in both the private and public sectors.
  • The Whole Building Design Guide is an online resource for Federal agency designers. The site includes detailed information on sustainable design under its sustainable design objective section. It also includes many other topics that are interlinked with the sustainable information.

If you would like more information, please contact Beverly Dyer.